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Common Core’s battle with the political meme

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

As mentioned in an earlier post, we are beginning to take a deeper look at Common Core with the idea of presenting more factual information here in the Kitsap Sun. Not surprisingly, since that last post there have been more drum beats against the idea behind Common Core standards. For many on both sides of the aisle the program smacks of a federal takeover of education.

And when something like Common Core arouses suspicion, it’s easy to find examples where someone has been perhaps operating under those standards and has done something questionable. It’s what we do. If you don’t like a church you can find examples where church members have behaved badly and say “Aha!” The most recent anti-Common Core meme I’ve seen was a reaction to a book that questioned whether America would be too racist to elect a black president. First off, I agree that the language on the page is at least inexact when it says, “But some people said Americans weren’t ready for that much change. Sure Barack was a nice fellow they said. But white voters would never vote for a black president.”

It’s inexact because someone could read that and see that as questioning whether any white voter would vote for Obama. But the question was whether there were enough white voters who might not vote for him because he was black. It wasn’t as if there wasn’t precedent. Consider the Oct. 13, 2008 story from CNN that asked whether “The Bradley Effect” would rear its head. From that story:

The Bradley effect is named after former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, an African-American who ran for California governor in 1982. Exit polls showed Bradley leading by a wide margin, and the Democrat thought it would be an early election night. But Bradley and the polls were wrong. He lost to Republican George Deukmejian. The theory was that polling was wrong because some voters, who did not want to appear bigoted, said they voted for Bradley even though they did not.

As it turns out the Bradley Effect was likely overstated anyway, but the question persisted in 2008. To suggest it didn’t is to ignore the facts.

And now we’ve spent all that conversation on something that, as it turns out, is largely not affected at all by Common Core. The decision to use this text book was made locally. Common Core is a set of standards, a program established by governors of American states and business leaders. When states buy into Common Core, they’re agreeing to meet new education standards. And in every case I know of, the new standards are tougher. Each state is still responsible to educate its own kids and establish its own curriculum. What each state is largely agreeing to by joining the Common Core states is ensuring that kids across the country are learning the same basics. How they teach those basics is up to them.

Beyond that is the notion that kids across the nation will be subjected to scary propaganda because of a quest for national education uniformity. If Common Core’s supporters are to be believed, that’s hype and hysteria winning over reality. David Brooks makes that case in a New York Times column in which he describes the Common Core political climate as a “circus.”

On the right, the market-share-obsessed talk-radio crowd claims that the Common Core standards represent a federal takeover of the schools. This is clearly false. This was a state-led effort, and localities preserve their control over what exactly is taught and how it is taught. Glenn Beck claims that Common Core represents “leftist indoctrination” of the young. On Fox, Elisabeth Hasselbeck cited a curriculum item that supposedly taught students that Abraham Lincoln’s religion was “liberal.” But, as the education analyst Michael J. Petrilli quickly demonstrated, this was some locally generated curriculum that was one of hundreds on a lesson-sharing website and it was promulgated a year before the Common Core standards even existed.

As it’s being attacked by the talk-radio right, the Common Core is being attacked by the interest group left. The general critique from progressives, and increasingly from teachers’ unions, is that the standards are too difficult, that implementation is shambolic and teachers are being forced into some top-down straitjacket that they detest.

All of this is having an effect on the public. A story in Tuesday’s Yakima Herald-Republic aired some of the concerns educators know about during an education summit in Yakima. And toward the end of the story Chris Barron, who once worked here at the Kitsap Sun and is now communications manager for the statewide education organization Partnership for Learning, said in 2015, when Washington is scheduled for full Common core implementation, there could be lots of negative parental reaction. Kids’ test scores are likely to go down that year. The tests students take now measure basic skills. Tests next year will measure college and career readiness, a higher standard.

President Obama is probably not helping. In some part that’s based on stupid political reasons. His support for the program creates automatic resistance to it. But he’s also linking Common Core to grants and waivers under No Child Left Behind, which you’ll recall was enacted under the previous president. That has the taste and feel of the federal government interjecting itself into local education.

The question in all of this is whether Common Core will succeed or fail on its merits/flaws, or on the political climate at the time. The truth will be in there somewhere.


Discussion with Central Kitsap School District Director 5 Candidates

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

Tuesday, the Kitsap Sun hosted Central Kitsap School board candidates Eric Greene, Richard Romero, and Jim Zimny for a discussion in the run-up to the Aug. 18 primary.

As mentioned in a previous post, the discussion included questions from Caucus readers and was led by Editor David Nelson.

We ran into some technical problems so about 10 to 15 minutes of the discussion was lost from our recording. The first video includes candidates’ introductions, before we ran into difficulties. The second video includes a majority of the questions and discussion.

Part 1:

Part 2:

— Angela Dice


Putting the School Beef Scare into Perspective

Friday, February 1st, 2008

Posted by Chris Henry, South Kitsap reporter

Update 4/5/08: Here is a link to a statement sent by Westland Meats to schools districts. It indicates that the employees in the video who were filmed rousing downed cattle with hoses and fork lifts were dismissed.

Here is a link to the statement regarding the video from U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer.

http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usdahome?contentidonly=true&contentid=2008/01/0025.xml

Here’s a excerpt from Schafer’s statement, “While we are conducting our investigation, today, USDA has indefinitely suspended Westland Meat Company as a supplier to Federal food and nutrition programs. Westland Meat Company will not be permitted to produce or deliver any products currently under contract. Under the suspension, no further contracts will be awarded to Westland Meat Company. The suspension will remain in effect until all investigations are complete and appropriate action is taken by the Department. An administrative hold has been placed on all Westland Meat Products that are in, or destined for Federal food and nutrition programs.”

Original post Feb. 2
By now you’ve probably seen the horrific undercover video taken by the Humane Society of the United States at Hallmark Meats, a California slaughterhouse that is one source of beef for the National School Lunch Program. The slaughterhouse is now under investigation by the U.S.D.A., and Washington school districts have been advised by the state’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to put a hold on any meat that may have originated at Hallmark until the investigation is complete.

Kitsap and North Mason school districts are conducting thorough inventories of all their beef products to make sure no bad meat turns up on students’ trays.

A hold on potentially tainted beef is different from a recall, explained Skip Skinner, supervisor of food distribution for OSPI. The video shows cows unable to stand being prodded with a forklift and sprayed with water in an apparent attempt to get them standing. (You can see part of the video at KOMO.com.)
Clearly, the Humane Society video brings up two separate issues: Violation of Federal laws in effect for health reasons, and the humane treatment of animals. Federal law prohibits the slaughter of downed cows for human consumption because of concerns about potentially fatal illness caused by e coli, salmonella and mad cow disease. But if inspectors determine that meat from the downed cows is not in fact tainted, the already shipped products now on hold will be released as fit for consumption, Skinner said.

Todd Miller, food service supervisor for Bainbridge Island School District, said that while he doesn’t know the specifics of the problem with Hallmark and has not seen the video, he believes people shouldn’t get overly worried about tainted meat. Miller’s family raised cattle when he was growing up, and he is familiar with slaughterhouses. He said cows can go down for reasons other than being sick, including broken limbs, pinched nerves and sheer anxiety.

“All sorts of things can make an animal not want to get up,” said Miller, speaking in general terms. “In (reputable) slaughter plants, they try to do it as humanely as possible. They try to keep the stress down as much as possible, but ultimately, the reality is the animal is going to be put down.”

Miller, again with the qualifier that he has not seen the video, said he doesn’t feel squeamish about slaughtering that is done properly.

“I’ve seen it. I grew up around it. I’m not bothered by it,” he said. “A lot of people don’t equate what they’re eating to how they got it.”


How Misunderstandings Become Policy

Monday, December 17th, 2007

The Bremerton School District has had some notable accomplishments of late with, particularly with early childhood education.

But Andrew Binion’s story on the district’s renewed inclusion of information beyond abstinence in its sex education curriculum must cause someone to wonder how the former policy could have been in place for eight years without anyone questioning it to the point of a policy change. According to the story, the best anyone can figure is that it became the policy because of a misunderstanding.

Although teachers had been teaching abstinence-only curriculum for about eight years, district officials are unsure of why the program had replaced the district’s previous comprehensive program.

The likeliest reason for the uncertainty, said Assistant Superintendent Linda Jenkins, was a combination of high turnover among district and school administrators and new officials not questioning the current practice.

Jenkins, like Superintendent Bette Hyde, was hired after the abstinence-only practice had been in effect.

The board of directors adopted a policy in August 1999 that said AIDS education was to emphasize abstinence as the only sure defense against contracting the fatal, incurable disease through sex.

Jenkins said that directive was likely construed as requiring an abstinence-only sex education curriculum and the policy wasn’t officially reviewed until the new law took effect.

“Practice became part of the culture and it was never really questioned,” Jenkins said.

How many other policies are out there that continue because of a misunderstanding creating a truth that no one questions?

At least one commenter to the story sees this as the religious right and “GWB” being the likely culprits, but if this really did start in 1999, then it was at least a year before Bush became president.


ChalleNGing Education

Monday, October 29th, 2007
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This is the view from the bunks on day one at the Oregon Youth Challenge program. A similar school will begin in Bremerton in January 2009. Kitsap Sun photo by Larry Steagall

Sunday’s story and slideshow Oregon Program Gives Window Into Bremerton’s Planned Youth Academy shows what will be in place in Bremerton in 2009.

But let’s consider the broader education questions. A school like this becomes useful because even the rosiest of estimates pin graduation rates between 80 and 85 percent. Most studies have it closer to 70 percent.

Whatever the number, between 15 and 30 percent of high school kids don’t graduate. The numbers are worse for minorities. Enter the National Guard Youth Challenge program. At 200 kids a year per state, more or less, it won’t solve the problem by itself.

Of course, some bristle at the methods. One commenter on the story said it “Looks like a Hitler youth camp.” That’s true, if you believe everything military equals Hitler. Others might object more reasonably. Those who support it, though, point to the Youth Challenge’s emphasis on educating the whole child. They don’t stick to the basics, necessarily, but they don’t overlook them either. In fact, by stressing over details like how to brush teeth and fold clothes, it becomes about as basic an educational experience as you can get.

Another irony of the program is that while it improves the educational status of the students involved, it does little in terms of meeting No Child Left Behind standards, because those call for improvement from year to year. Since you have a different batch coming into the school twice a year, the stats are not going to change much. It could have a positive impact on WASL scores, simply because more kids would be passing.

The other issue is that this clearly does not fit the traditional model for school education. That’s a problem if school officials resist. Terry Bergeson, the state’s superintendent of public instruction has been to the school in Bend, so there is acceptance here. That school’s founder, Mike Caldwell, said in Oregon there was initially resistance from state educators. “You’re not educators,” the establishment said. Caldwell readily agreed. The school contracted educators and does still. The Guard doesn’t seem to be meeting that resistance here. The Bremerton School District will likely be the education provider.

You can look at a school like this by itself, recognize it for what it does (good or bad) and have the discussion within that singular context. But I wonder if this school doesn’t raise broader questions about education. Are there other school models that don’t get the support this one does? How about the resistance to language immersion (particularly Spanish) that surfaced here when Bremerton announced it was beginning its program.

It was 13 years ago when Oregon started its Youth Challenge program. When Washington has its school up and going, there will still be 18 other states that do not. Does a solution like this always take that long to move? If so, why?


Few School Board Candidates

Tuesday, June 12th, 2007

Derek Sheppard writes:

When looking at the county-wide elections filings list, the thing that strikes me are how few school board races are contested. As much flak as school boards around the county get, you’d think more people would run for office. Out of the 14 board positions in Kitsap County, four are contested.

Why do you think that is?

If you want to see the county-wide list, go HERE.


Time to File Soon

Friday, May 25th, 2007

Changes are afoot for the “Tracking the Speedway” blog, but like the worst of radio shows I’ll do nothing more than hint from now until launch. Never you mind just yet. I’ll tell you June 1.

In the meantime, it seems like you folks would be interested that candidates for local office can begin filing June 4. Chris Henry will have a story about it Sunday.

Although this is an off election year — no presidential, legislative or judicial races, at least in Kitsap County — several local races are already drawing attention. Among the most high profile contests, City of Port Orchard residents will decide who will replace outgoing Mayor Kim Abel, who has decided not to seek a second term, and long-time Port of Bremerton Commissioner Mary Ann Huntington will defend her seat following a large port levy hike in 2007.


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